Infrastructure: Are Bridges Really a Problem?

By Marcus Kirkwood

Are Bridges Really a Problem?

There’s a lot of talk out there right now about bridges being a major problem in US infrastructure. Are we looking at bridges collapsing across the country if we don’t do something about this? Why aren’t we doing something about it if it’s such a big deal? What’s the real problem here? And finally, should we really be concerned or is this all about politics?

According to a recent study performed by ARTBA, there are currently 220,000 bridges in the US that are in need of repair. Those bridges, lined up end to end, would span from coast to coast. Twice. That’s a lot of bridges. Too many to fix in any reasonable amount of time. Let’s forget about bridges ‘in need of repair,’ and focus on what’s dangerous. That number is a staggering 7.3% of bridges in the US. That’s just over 45,000 bridges across the country.

Let’s talk dollar signs. How much is all of this really going to cost? As always, it depends who you ask. According to the US DOT, fixing all structurally deficient bridges would cost US taxpayers $41.8 billion. To bring our current interstate highway system up to date, US DOT estimates that it will cost approximately $1 trillion. According to CNN Money, if you ask the private sector, civil engineers are looking at a number closer to $4.6 trillion.

We certainly aren’t going to have a permanent solution in place for quite some time. In the meantime, we’re doing a few things to limit safety concerns. Bridges are inspected every two years and given a score. At that point, heavy traffic (or in some rare cases, all traffic) is diverted and the bridge is given a new weight capacity and restricts heavy vehicles in order to prevent disasters like this vehicle bridge collapse in Italy in 2018:

There is a long road ahead of us to get this figured out. We can all agree on one thing: our infrastructure needs to be safe for travel or be shut down entirely. Let’s keep monitoring things to ensure we don’t have an safety concerns. Only then can we move on to where the money will come from to get things back up to speed.

At the time of this release, President Biden is pushing for a bill that will push $2 trillion into US infrastructure. Unfortunately, it’s a shock to nobody, that things are bogged down by both sides of the aisle as the bill is laden with verbiage involving labor unions and non-union members, among many other items, that are causing stagnation in Washington. Shocking, we know.

When all of the data gets broken down, there are a few takeaways for all of us:

1. We have some work to do to get our infrastructure up to speed.
2. If it’s not safe, we’re looking for it, finding it and changing regulations.
3. Bridges in use collapse at an immeasurably small rate so you shouldn’t be living in fear.
4. We have 400,000 bridges that don’t need an ounce of work and are keeping our economy rolling on all 18 wheels (or how many your vehicle may have).